Full circle

February 15, 2011

My butt is cold.

That’s probably not the classiest way to start a blog entry, but it’s what I’m thinking as I sit on this ancient metal lawn chair in front of the motel I bought exactly a year ago, watching the tumbleweeds struggle to free themselves from the barbed-wire fence across the highway and waiting in the brittle night air to see whether the coyotes will serenade me again like they did last night.

Like the tumbleweeds and their namesake motel, I am a latecomer to this ancient land.

Uprooted and directionless, I blew in from the east and found myself caught on the fence of a life unlike anything I’d ever known.

A year later, I remain unsure of why I thought this was a good idea, but I am certain it was the best idea I’ve ever had.

At 11:38 a.m., Feb. 15, 2010, I became the proud owner of the historic Tumbleweed Motel, which now consists of five lovingly restored rooms, an office, a functional wringer washer, a pair of clothesline poles that I still haven’t gotten around to sanding and spraying with Rust-Oleum, a developmentally disabled handyman who calls me “Sissy” and walks two miles to the truck stop next to the interstate off-ramp every morning to buy canned tuna for the feral cats that skulk around the edges of the property, an espresso machine, a collie mix rescued from a barbed-wire fence, four cats rescued from a culvert during a rainstorm, a dark-eyed man with a wry sense of humor who became my boyfriend in April and my husband in October, a feisty teenage desk clerk whose rightful title probably ought to be “assistant manager,” and a three-month-old fetus who waits silently for the right moment to make a grand entrance into a world full of everyday adventure and fiery sunsets that never fail to take my breath away.

I tumbled into town with a splitting headache and a heart full of grief, orphaned, jobless, uncertain of my future, with nothing to lean on but a small insurance settlement and the publishing rights to my father’s music.

A year later, sitting here on my own property next to Route 66, with my freezing butt and my freezing fingers and a faster Internet connection than I had a year ago, waiting for a visit from unseen coyotes, I feel my shallow chaparral roots beginning to deepen, having probed this dry land and found enough love and beauty to heal a broken heart and support a life whose quietude somehow manages to dazzle me more than the glitter and flash of the city I left behind.

My butt is cold. My life is beautiful. And with that note to open their song, the coyotes are just beginning a lullaby wild and familiar.

– Sierra

Nowhere I’d rather be

February 4, 2011

It is literally a degree outside. Fortunately, I am curled up under a warm blanket inside, with Grant’s arm around me, the stereo playing an old Neil Diamond album very quietly in the background, and the smell of freshly baked gingersnaps hanging sweetly in the air.

There’s nowhere in the world I’d rather be.

Well, nowhere except the bleachers at Wrigley Field on a summer afternoon, of course.

The bleachers at Wrigley would be awfully unpleasant this evening, so I’ll settle for what I’ve got. It’s a pretty close second, anyway.

— Sierra

Wintry feeling

November 27, 2010

“People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.”

— Rogers Hornsby

Substitute “tourists” for “baseball,” and you’ve pretty much got my take on Route 66 in winter. I know a girl who loves the offseason. Loves it. She drives 66 all year, every chance she gets, and she swears the best time to be on the road is in the winter, because that’s when the crowds and the tourists are gone, and you can sit in a cafe and drink coffee and eat chili with extra hot sauce and listen to the regulars or check into a motel and have the whole place to yourself, absolute silence except for the buzz of the neon transformers, and look up at a cold, clear sky and catch your breath and think.

She obviously doesn’t own a motel. That silence gets old when you’ve gotten spoiled to daily adventures with tourists from all over the world. A day or two is nice — you can catch your breath — but the charm wears off in a hurry. I need a project of some kind, stat.

Maybe I should use the winter to work with Joey more. I wonder how much he could learn if I gave him my undivided attention for the next four months or so?

— Sierra

Giving thanks

November 24, 2010

I have a million blessings to count tomorrow, but the one I’m savoring the most at the moment is the simplest: a flock of brown construction paper hand turkeys decorated with tempera paint and embellished with gold glitter and red, orange, and yellow marabou feathers. Sandy and Lil Miss helped Joey and a pair of 4-year-old twins from Minnesota make them as decorations for the lobby this evening.

I cannot begin to explain why construction paper turkeys made by tracing around children’s hands delight me so much. They just do.

— Sierra

Crash and burn

November 21, 2010

Sorry for the extended silence; I’ve been a bit under the weather the past few days, and I just haven’t had the energy to do much of anything. With tourist season winding down, the Tumbleweed has been largely devoid of customers, so I’ve spent most of the week resting and trying to figure out why I’m so bloody tired all of a sudden.

Grant says it’s probably just the letdown after a long tourist season and a very eventful summer, coupled with the approach of a sad anniversary (Friday marked a year since I lost Dad) and a happy anniversary (next Monday marks a year since Miss Shirley, Joey, and the Tumbleweed turned my life upside-down and gave me a new raison d’etre). I guess he’s right, but I’ve ridden my share of emotional roller coasters in the past 20 years, and this doesn’t feel quite like any of them. I just feel … not even sick, really; just vaguely uncomfortable and very, very tired.

I’d better pull myself together pretty soon. Sandy is rolling into town tomorrow, and I don’t want her to get stuck with all the Thanksgiving preparations. She’s an amazing cook, but she’s our guest; she shouldn’t have to spend her whole visit in the kitchen while I lie around feeling sorry for myself.

— Sierra


November 15, 2010

I can’t sleep. I don’t know why. I’m tired. Exhausted, in fact. But I can’t seem to shut down, and when I can’t shut down, I fidget. Fidgeting is fine when you live by yourself, but when it’s 2:30 a.m., and your husband has to be at work in four and a half hours, it’s probably best to get up and find something to do while your mind races from one topic to another, panicking over a plethora of deadlines that don’t really have to be met.

So it is that I find myself curled up under a hand-crocheted afghan in the lobby of this old motel on this cold northern New Mexico night, listening to the new Neil Diamond album and dreaming of my father through a haze of sleepy tears.

I’m not sure I should have downloaded this album. Diamond’s voice has always reminded me of Dad’s, and his latest project is a soft, stripped-down, contemplative collection of covers with a simplicity as elegant as the minimalist photo on the front of the album. That familiar voice — world-weary and gentle — carries the whole thing, and on “Alone Again (Naturally),” it breaks my heart. If Dad had recorded another album, this could just as easily have been his song. If I hadn’t stumbled into the lobby of the Tumbleweed a little less than a year ago and wandered into a life unlike anything I’d ever imagined for myself, it could have been mine, though unsung.

I wish Grant didn’t have to work in the morning. I wish I could wake him up and put on “A Song for You” — oh, my God, is it sublime — and melt into his arms and dance around the lobby in the middle of the night with nobody around to wonder why the hell the principal and his wife are awake and slow-dancing in their living room at 2:30 a.m. on a school night.

I wish … but of course I can’t, because I am a grownup, and more importantly, he is a grownup, and so I will just sit here under one of Miss Shirley’s afghans and listen to Neil Diamond and think of my father and have a good cry by myself in the dark.

At least it’s a good cry.

— Sierra


October 29, 2010

Grant is at a ballgame tonight, so I’m spending a little quality time with my old friends Ben and Jerry, listening to Tom Petty on the stereo, and relaxing into the familiar, strangely comfortable depression that settles over me every fall like a great soft-feathered bird, dulling my senses as the cold clouds dull the sky.

You know that old Karen Carpenter song that goes, “Talking to myself and feeling old”? That’s how I feel this time of year: nothing wrong; just a vague sadness that feels oddly reassuring in its familiarity and predictability. I don’t remember the first time I felt this way. Was it the year I lost Mom? Was it earlier? Later? Did something trigger it, or did it just drift in one afternoon, spread its wings across my consciousness, and take up temporary residence?

I’d thought I might avoid it this year, but here it is, quietly announcing the arrival of autumn as I lie here on the couch, waiting for the game to end so Grant can come home and put his arms around me and drive away the shadows that creep into my thought when I have too much time on my hands.

— Sierra

Please release me

October 14, 2010

From my father’s album:

I Should Have Been There

An anxious moment
A panicked flight
‘Just young and foolish’
Don’t make it right
I should have been there

First steps to mama
First day of school
First pitch, first strikeout
I was a fool
I should have been there

First costume contest
First pony ride
First disappointment
First time she cried
I should have been there

Tough girl at fifteen
Left all alone
Grief-stricken, shattered
If I had known
I would have been there

The spitting image
Her mama’s face
My own eyes flashing
A moment’s grace

Long years of silence
Come to an end
This second chance is
A long-lost friend

From girl to woman
As time goes by
The years so fragile
Is this goodbye?

From child to mother
Daughter to wife
So time continues
This precious life

Wish I had been there….

His label is chomping at the bit to release this album. Valerie sent me the contract today. It’s a generous contract. I should probably sign it. I should probably play nice and share my father with his fans, who have no idea any of these recordings exist, and who will almost certainly crash Apple’s servers downloading them from iTunes the instant they are released.

I should, but I don’t know if I can. It’s bad enough when I find myself in some public place, minding my own business, and my father’s voice suddenly drifts out of some speaker embedded into the ceiling and takes me back to the day I lost my mother and had to choose between forgiveness and insanity. It’s taken me years to get used to that, to be able to hear it without falling apart in the middle of a restaurant or the dentist’s office or the lumberyard while strangers stare at me as if I’ve lost my mind.

Beautiful as it is, I don’t know if I can handle being blindsided by this gift from beyond the grave while I’m picking out avocados at the grocery store or waiting for the optometrist to update my contact prescription, y’know?

— Sierra

Tomorrow’s out of sight

September 7, 2010

Tonight was ridiculously slow, so at 9:30, Grant and I switched on the “NO VACANCY” sign and wandered down to Casa de Jesus.

Jesus had the karaoke machine out; as soon as we walked in, he began pestering me to sing. “My customers — they’re still talking about last time, mi’ija,” he said, referring to an impromptu performance I’d given in a moment of weakness last spring.

Grant was intrigued. “You can sing?” he asked, as if it were somehow shocking that a rock star’s daughter might have a passable set of pipes.

Jesus answered for me. “Like an angel.” He grinned at me. “Well, maybe not exactly an angel. Maybe a little more devil than angel. But beautiful.”

I rolled my eyes. I don’t sing in public if I can help it. Jesus thinks I have stage fright. In a way, he’s right: Being onstage terrifies me. But I’m not afraid I’ll sound bad. I’m afraid I won’t. And if word ever got out that Daddy’s little girl was singing pretty good karaoke in some hole-in-the-wall bar, my peaceful sanctuary could very easily turn into a three-ring circus.

Grant must have read my thoughts. “Come on, Sierra,” he said. “There’s nobody here but you and me and a handful of locals who don’t know who your dad is and wouldn’t give a damn if they did. Please let me hear you. Just once.”

Looking into his dark eyes, I caved.

The bar fell silent.

“Take the ribbon from my hair…” I began, and the look on Grant’s face sent a little shiver down the back of my neck. I remembered Dad telling me how a singer can control his audience with the right song at the right moment. I wondered whether I could control Grant with my voice the way Dad had controlled the women at his shows. It was a deliciously wicked thought.

Three songs later, Grant and I walked back to the Tumbleweed.

“Definitely more devil than angel,” he whispered, nuzzling my ear as I unlocked the lobby.

I looked at him for a long moment. I could hear my own heartbeat filling my ears with a deafening, high-pitched whish-whish. I thought of Dad, of his groupies, of the terrible magnificent crazy wild power a few notes could have.

You slut, I thought. How dare you? He trusts you.

I sighed.

“More angel than I’d like,” I said, and I kissed his cheek. “See you tomorrow.”

Lighting one candle

August 15, 2010

It may be better to light one candle than to curse the dark, but when you spend a week running a motel on batteries and breezes while the temperatures approach triple digits, you get kind of sick of lighting candles.

A violent storm blew through Coldwater last Sunday afternoon. The Tumbleweed didn’t have any serious damage, but the power was out all over Coldwater for an entire week after lightning hit the substation northeast of town and high winds downed half the power lines in Coldwater.

There were a lot of hassles, but it was pretty great to see the community come together in the face of a potential disaster. On Sunday evening, while Grant was smoking all the meat I had on hand to keep it from spoiling, Brother Jerry came by to see how we were doing. He and Grant got to talking, and by Monday morning, Brother Jerry, Grant, Bill, and all the deacons from church had set up grills and smokers at Veterans’ Park and organized a sort of communitywide barbecue/potluck to keep everybody’s perishables from going to waste.

Despite being thrown together on the fly, it turned out to be a really nice event, and everybody loved it so much that we’ve just about decided to do something similar as the centerpiece for our fall festival — maybe a chili cookoff or something.

Brother Jerry also got a couple of generators on Tuesday and set them up to create a cooling center at the church for anybody who needed to escape the heat. Here at the Tumbleweed, we handed out a lot of PBJ’s and bottled water, and a local Girl Scout troop came in and used my old treadle sewing machine to make enough cool ties for everybody in Coldwater to have one. Joey thought this was a brilliant idea and jumped right in, helping the girls measure out the little water-absorbent crystals to put in each tie.

The fire department got into the act Wednesday, deciding that this was a perfect time to flush the lines by opening a hydrant at Veterans’ Park so all the kids could come and play in the water.

The weather still sucked, and we were all still pretty glad when the power finally came back on last night, but it was good to see people pulling together and pooling their resources to keep each other as safe and comfortable as possible under the circumstances.

— Sierra


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